Diverse Forest

The Early Paleocene, the first few million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs, was long thought to be a period of warm temperatures but low plant diversity. The Eocene, the geologic epoch after the Paleocene, has produced sites with a much greater diversity of plant fossils and is generally considered to be the period when plants recovered from the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event.

In 1994, Steve Wallace found a new fossil plant site in Castle Rock, Colorado. The rainforest morphology (leaf shape) and high species diversity of these plants initially led Museum researchers to suspect that it was from the Eocene, so they were surprised when palynological and radiometric estimates placed the locality in the Early Paleocene. This anomalous site is causing paleobotanists to re-evaluate common beliefs that ecosystems required 10 million years to recover after the catastrophic event that caused the death of the dinosaurs.

Castle Rock morphotypes

Beth Ellis, a Museum volunteer, has spearheaded research at the Castle Rock site. This poster she prepared for the Denver Basin Spring Science Meeting in 2001 shows the variety of morphotypes (informal taxonomic categories used at the Museum and elsewhere) from Castle Rock.

For more information on research at the Castle Rock site, see Evidence for an Early Paleocene Rainforest in the Denver Basin Project section of the Museum's Web site. To learn more about morphotypes, see Plant Research in the Follow a Fossil section of the Museum's Web site.

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